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We now offer the Cool It! card game in our Science Store. Cool It! is the new card game from UCS that teaches kids about the choices we have when it comes to climate change.
This is an image of Pluto.
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Image from: NASA

A Look at Pluto's Atmosphere

It may seem hard to believe that Pluto could have an atmosphere because it is so cold at 39 AU, where Pluto is found, but it does. Because there are times when Pluto is closer to the sun than is Neptune (making it the 8th planet for roughly 20 years at a time), ices on Pluto's surface evaporate and form an atmosphere. It is continually produced and lost again as long as Pluto is inside Neptune's orbit.

The air is made mostly of nitrogen gas, just like that of the Earth and Saturn's moon Titan, with the addition of carbon monoxide (CO - what comes out of your car) and a molecule called methane.

The atmosphere is also similar to that of Neptune's moon Triton.. On Triton there are seasons and winds. Because Pluto has a bigger atmosphere than Triton, there may even be clouds and storms. However, seeing these clouds and winds on Pluto is difficult.

It is also possible that the presence of nearby Charon draws molecules escaping from Pluto's atmosphere to the surface of Charon, as suggested in this image. So this double planet may exchange molecules from their atmospheres.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA